Category Archives: Water Quality

DPMC to Governor McAuliffe: Are Virginians Equal to Our Fellow Citizens?

An announcement from Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition (DPMC) about their September 21, 2017, letter to Governor McAuliffe asking him to treat Virginians fairly and put our interests on the same plane with those of the people of New York, North Carolina, and West Virginia:

The Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition (DPMC) has sent a letter to Governor Terry McAuliffe restating questions we asked him in a previous letter dated July 25, 2017. The lack of a response from the Governor forces citizens to guess at his attitudes, based on the actions of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) on the two huge natural gas pipelines proposed to cross the state. Unfortunately, DEQ’s continued mishandling of regulatory reviews for the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) and Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) proposals provides a disheartening hint to the Governor’s position. The questions DPMC continues to ask:

Do Virginian’s deserve less protection than our fellow citizens? Will you accept DEQ’s proposals to forego its responsibilities where others have fully exercised their authorities to protect their citizens and environments?

These questions become more relevant by the day. Since that July 25 letter was sent, a federal appeals court has upheld New York’s action to strictly regulate a natural gas pipeline and deny certification under the Clean Water Act (CWA). Our neighboring states have judged the information and analyses supposed to justify CWA section 401 water quality certification (WQC) of each major pipeline to be inadequate. These judicial and state actions further illustrate that Virginia has all necessary authority to reject pipeline projects unless it is proven that water protection standards will be met and that the evidence now before the State fails to meet that requirement for either ACP or MVP.

In DPMC’s letter, David Sligh, DPMC Regulatory Systems Investigator, noted that the federal Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld New York State’s denial of a WQC for the Constitution Pipeline, rejecting pipeline company claims that New York had exceeded its authority. In stark contrast to New York’s defense of its citizens and environment, now justified in court, “[r]ecords show that [Virginia] environmental officials have so far refused to even seriously consider recommending denial of WQCs in these cases, apparently willing to cede the powers reserved to states in the CWA,” as noted in the letter.

Other recent decisions, by West Virginia and North Carolina officials, have revealed serious gaps in the information and analyses presented, respectively, for MVP and ACP. Faced with a lawsuit by citizens over its issuance of a WQC for MVP, the West Virginia DEP was compelled to admit it did not have sufficient evidence to uphold its decision and remanded that decision for further analysis. The North Carolina DEQ recently determined it needed a significant amount of new information to properly assess waterbody impacts from ACP.

The flaws in Virginia’s evidence to support draft WQCs for the two damaging pipelines are even more serious than those identified by North Carolina and Virginia must follow the wise path North Carolina has chosen – not continue to continue in flawed processes, such as that West Virginia was forced to abandon for MVP. Rick Webb, DPMC Coordinator, stated: “Governor McAuliffe must recognize that Virginia’s reviews of these pipelines are fatally flawed. We can only hope he’ll insist DEQ abandon its rush to judgement and restore integrity to these processes; that he not burden Virginia taxpayers with the expense of defending the indefensible in court.”

DPMC Letter to Governor McAuliffe, 9/21/17
DPMC Letter to DEQ Director, David Paylor, 8/28/17
DCR Letter to FERC, 8/21/17

Virginia DEQ Presses Ahead

The Richmond Times-Dispatch for September 19, 2017, published a story, “Virginia’s environmental agency to press ahead on pipeline permits as other states hit the brakes.

West Virginia rescinded their permit to allow further review. North Carolina delayed their decision to allow further review. “Yet in Virginia, the state Department of Environmental Quality, which has been heavily criticized for its handling of the water-quality risks posed by the two pending natural gas pipelines, says it has no plans to slow down the process for either project. The pipelines face major resistance from environmental groups and some landowners and state lawmakers of both parties have asked the DEQ to slow the process.”

The article quotes Greg Buppert, lawyer with the Southern Environmental Law Center, who says, “‘Virginia is an outlier. Those two states have said this project has serious potential implications for water quality in our state and we’re going to take our process seriously. … Virginia appears stuck on Dominion’s time frame. And unless the agency backs off its timetable and gets more information from Dominion, gets more information from the public, they’re racing ahead with a defective permit.'”

Read the full article here.

Blast Zone

Blast Zone – Natural Gas and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline: Causes, Consequences and Civic Action is a new report from the Rachel Carson Council. In addition to naming and exploring the economic and political systems underlying fracking and the ACP, Blast Zone highlights organizations, businesses, and campuses working in interconnected ways toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions at the source, restoring equity, and putting decision-making in the hands of communities.

The report discusses:

  • Natural gas: current and future trends (including the “bridge fuel” myth)
  • Fracking in the Marcellus and Utica Shale Basins
  • The Atlantic Coast Pipeline (including the power behind it, industry motives, what’s paving the way, and the ACP and the environment)

And the report includes an entire set of “Toolboxes” for fighting the ACP:

  • Policy Toolbox: Our Power Plan
  • Housing Toolbox: Efficient, Affordable, Durable Investments
  • Voter’s Toolbox: Supporting Fossil-Free Leaders
  • Campus Toolbox: Research and Advocacy for the Public Interest
  • Advocacy Toolbox: Eliminating Fracking Dangers
  • Financial Toolbox: Divest and Reinvest
  • Property Rights Toolbox: Challenging Eminent Domain
  • Lobbying Toolbox: Re-envisioning FERC
  • Policy Toolbox: Water Quality Permits
  • Civil Rights Toolbox: Driving Racial and Social Justice
  • Direct Action and Advocacy Toolbox

Easily understandable graphs and charts, along with photographs (many you’ll recognize) help to make the points in this clear and thoughtful report.

Shifting Legal Terrain

A lengthy article in Blue Virginia, picked up by the Huffington Post for national distribution, discusses the way the legal terrain has shifted following the September 7, 2017, decision by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) to revoke its previous approval of the proposed 300-mile Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) and the decision on September 15, 2017 by North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ) to delay its decision on the proposed 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP). Both the WVDEP and NCDEQ have requested additional information and say they need additional time to consider the requested approvals of Water Quality Certifications required by Section 401 of the federal Clean Water Act. The article is an excellent review of the issues as they stand at this moment. Words like “stunning” and “bombshell” are used to describe the effect of the WV and NC decisions.

The article notes that “if Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe’s Department of Environmental Quality continues its present course, he and his department likely will suffer the same embarrassment as West Virginia. Here’s why: Virginia DEQ’s Draft Water Quality Certifications for both the Mountain Valley Pipeline and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline suffer from precisely the same defects as the certification that West Virginia has now conceded could not hold up in court – only worse.”

The full article appears in Blue Virginia, the Huffington Post, And on the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition Web page.   DPMC states, “Although Section 401 of the Clean Water Act gives states the authority to block federally approved projects that threaten water resources, implementation of Section 401 for the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines has been marked by state agency denial, evasion, reversal, and outright misrepresentation.” They reprint the article on their Web page with permission of the author, saying the widely cited article “brings clarity to a confusing but critical topic.”

Virginia River Healers Raise Banner in Richmond

The Virginia Water Solidarity Banner was lifted over the James River on Friday evening, September 8, 2017, by over 40 water protectors. The banner was spread across the Tyler Potterfield Memorial Bridge in downtown Richmond, VA and graced the river with the words “Our water is greater than pipelines.” The banner drop was organized by Virginia Water Healers to support kayakers and paddlers who were part of Journey the James. They started up river from Richmond on September 4 at the point where Dominion Energy and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline propose to horizontally drill under the James River between Nelson and Buckingham counties. The Virginia River Healers assert that the construction process threatens the source of drinking water for Richmond and over 2.5 million people.

The Virginia Water Solidarity Banner is a 35′ long anti-pipeline banner that includes a 30′ two headed fish for the public to write down comments and sign their names. The banner travels the state, joining impacted communities at public hearings, standing with water protectors on the front lines, and being strung across threatened rivers. These actions of water solidarity are a call for all Virginians to rise and protect the many river basins the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast Pipelines threaten.  Read more on the Virginia Water Healers Web page.

WV Vacates MVP 401 Certification to Reevaluate

On September 7, 2017, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) told the Mountain Valley Pipeline developers and other state and federal agencies that it “hereby vacates and remands” its water quality certification for the controversial natural gas pipeline. Scott Mandirola, director of the DEP Division of Water and Waste Management, said in the letter that the move would allow DEP “to reevaluate the complete application to determine whether the state’s certification is in compliance” with the federal Clean Water Act.

Citizen groups had challenged the DEP’s previous approval, saying the agency had not fully reviewed the MVP’s potential to degrade streams, but DEP Secretary Caperton refused their request for a hearing. The Sierra Club, the West Virginia Rivers Coalition and other groups then filed a court challenge against Caperton and the DEP. The state agency was due to file a response by September 14, 2017, to the brief filed with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of the citizen groups by lawyers from Appalachian Mountain Advocates. After the previous certification was vacated, a DEP spokesperson said that during the agency’s review of the legal challenge at the 4th Circuit, DEP officials determined that “the information used to issue” the water quality certification “needs to be further evaluated and possibly enhanced.”

We hope Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality will learn from West Virginia’s experience that a rubber stamp approval of 401 water quality certification would mean they aren’t doing their job properly – and might, like West Virginia, have to go back and do it over.

For news coverage of this story, see the Charleston Gazette-Mail, the Roanoke Times, WDTV5, and WVVA.